Wasn’t there supposed to be a live album coming out? I don’t know what happened to that, but Silver Mt Zion are back with a new studio set, this time rejoicing as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band (as they were on Horses In The Sky).
Tracks one to twelve zoom past in just over a minute – a lonely squeal of sustained and looped feedback. Proceedings proper begin at track thirteen, “1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound” (coincidentally, or not, the upper estimate of the number of Iraqis killed in five years of illegal occupation. The disparity with the lower estimate of “only” 150,000 does tend to illustrate how fucking clueless everyone involved in the whole farrago really is). Anyway, back to the music, campers. As you’d expect, this is a pretty damned angry track. It’s constructed like a mantra – building up and then breaking down into a chant of the title that hammers home the message.
Vocals have played an increasingly central role in recent Silver Mt Zion releases, with singing in-the-round and call-and-response chanting featured. Efrim’s cracked tenor is admittedly an acquired taste, but nobody could dispute the passion he puts into his singing. And for me, that more than makes up for his technical limitations. His lyrics are a little idiosyncratic in their grammar, but he’s fantastic at painting apocalyptic visions with spare prose and skilfully chosen metaphor.
The title track crashes along for five minutes, breaks and rebuilds on a riff that could’ve come straight off a Cream album. The whole piece is structured like one of those side-long blues-rock jams that would appear on early seventies ‘classic rock’ live albums: quiet grooves and explosive riffing. But it’s about a thousand times more interesting.
“Black Waters Blowed-Engine Broke Blues” is a medley. The first part, a desperate, cracked ballad lit up with the scratched squalls of Jessica Moss’ and Sophie Trudeau’s violins. It even has a chorus of sorts that you can whistle (if that’s your test of a good tune), and some old-fashioned rock guitar. “Engine Broke Blues” is absolutely magnificent, almost hymnal (but why is Efrim singing in a mockney Damon Albarn accent?), culminating in a desperate chant. Lyrically it is angry and defeated, whilst the music is almost triumphant.
“Blind Blind Blind” is almost the opposite. The epic melancholy of the music is juxtaposed with the lyrics that drag and nurture hope from the wreckage of a faded revolution (“We want punks in the palace / ‘cause punks’ got the loveliest dreams”). It ends with the thought that “…some hearts are true / but some hearts aren’t hardly true. But Some Hearts Are True…”. It’s a stunning, stirring piece of music, and a fitting end to a brilliant record.
There are still folk out there who view Silver Mt Zion as some kind of amusing side project that will suffice until Godspeed You Black Emperor roll back into town. They need to get over it. Firstly, it ain’t gonna happen. I think everyone involved realised that the band had painted themselves into a musical corner by the time Yanqui UXO appeared. They’d begun to sound like their imitators. And anyway, SMZ, to my mind, have moved way beyond their forbears. This is now one of the best, most literate (musically, lyrically, politically and emotionally) rock acts on the planet, and 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons could be the best thing they’ve ever done.
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13 1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound (14:42)
14 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons (16:45)
15 Black Waters Blowed/Engine Broke Blues (13:05)
16 BlindBlindBlind (13:17)